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The common barberry is an upright shrub that is native to Europe and Asia. It was first brought to North America in the 1600s by early New England settlers and escaped from cultivation. It is widely distributed throughout many areas in Canada and the U.S. This shrub has long been used as an herbal remedy for the treatment of many complaints. Interestingly, arching branches which come into contact with the soil can produce new growth. Common barberry looks very similar to the native plant American barberry (B. canadensis), and somewhat similar to invasive Japanese barberry (B. Thunbergii). The leaves of the American barberry are also toothed whereas the Japanese barberry leaves have smooth margins.
This shrub's bark is typically gray bark. The bark of a mature shrub is ridged or plated.
This is a multi branched shrub. Twigs have sharp, needle-like spines in groups of three beneath each leaf cluster. Spines are 1 to 2 cm (0.5 to 0.75”) in length. Winter branch colors ranges from a brown to yellow to gray.
Common barberry can reach heights up to 3m (9') tall (or higher in some cases). It can branch out to 2m (6') wide.
Leaves are simple and have a dull light green color. Leaves measure from 2 to 8cm long with about 16 to 20 teeth per side. Being a deciduous shrub the leaves typically drop in late autumn but many wither and persist throughout the winter. Leaves turn bright shades of red, orange/yellow and/or purple in fall.
Its yellow flowers are arranged in 2 to 6 cm (1/2 to 2”) long drooping clusters and appear in early summer. Each flower measures approximately 1 cm (1/2”) long.
Mature fruits are small (1cm). These elliptical berries are generally scarlet in color. Each fruit contains 1 to 3 small black seeds. These berries persist on the shrub throughout the winter. It is often referred to as the winter berry shrub.
These shrubs tend to prefer forest edges, roadside thickets and in some fields. It prefers sunny locations but is shade tolerant.
Fruit can be used raw or cooked (although many prefer it cooked). A refreshing lemon-like drink can be made from the fruit. Young leaves can be used as a flavoring. Dried young leaves and shoot tips make a refreshing tea. Fruits are high in vitamins C and K as well as many antioxidants.
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